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[Recipe] Kangkong with Sambal Belacan topped with crispy fried Ikan Bilis

My version of Kangkong with Sambal Belacan topped with crispy fried Ikan Bilis
I have lived and worked in Malaysia for 5 years and there are times I would just have that sudden craving for the flavors that I have come to love. One of these is the preparation of blanched kangkong (Ipomoea aquatica) with crispy fried ikan bilis (Stolephorus commersonii). This is usually accompanied either by a rich oyster sauce based sauce or the spicy sambal (a spicy paste made from chilis and shrimp paste very common in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine). I have opted for the latter by making use of a prepackaged sambal paste I bought in the grocery. You could make your own sambal at home of course but this was a spur-of-the-moment thing after realizing that I already had the mix in my pantry. It is also a good thing that the ingredients are not at all hard to come by. A quick trip to the nearby talipapa (neighborhood vegetable and wet market) and I was able to get all the ingredients that I need.

Some of my friends and former colleagues in Malaysia actually thought that I dislike spicy food. As a matter of fact, I love moderately spicy dishes. I just don't usually eat it when eating out or in front of most people since I have a high sensitivity to even the tiniest hint of spiciness. I would get all red-faced and would perspire a lot starting on the top of my head and typically drenching the upper part of my shirt (I would have this reaction with just having too much pepper on my food). To avoid embarrassment (and to avoid the constantly worried questions of whether I was OK or if I was having some sort of allergic reaction), I usually just started steering clear of spicy dishes when I have meals in the company of others (for close friends I do not have this issue though).   When I am in the comfort of my own home, then it is a different matter.

2 big bunches of kangkong (water spinach), leaves picked and the softer stalks sliced in 2 cm segments
2 pcs. medium-sized onions, roughly chopped
1 whole garlic, minced
5 pcs small-sized tomatoes, diced
1 packet of sambal belacan paste (I chose mildly spicy)
2 grams dilis (ikan bilis - a type of small dried fish)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (for frying)
3 pcs. siling labuyo (Capsicum frutescens) or alternatively you can use bird's eye chilis, finely sliced (optional if you want the dish to have a more spicy kick or just use them for garnish at the top of the dish)

Fry the dried fish in vegetable oil until they are nice and crispy. Set it aside. In a wok or a saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in the same oil until the onions are caramelized. Add the paste and saute for about 5 minutes (the mix will be very aromatic as you heat it up). Add the diced tomatoes and continue sauteing the mixture until the tomatoes are just starting to get a bit mushy. Add half a cup of water and bring it to a simmer. Cook it for about 10 more minutes (depending on how thick you want the sambal sauce to be). Add the sliced stems of the kangkong first and check for the desired degree of tenderness (I personally like them to still have a crunch when you bite them) then add the leaves. Stir in the crispy fried dried fish (leaving some for toppings). Serve with crispy dilis on top.  

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